I admit, I love people-watching. Not peeking around corners, creepy-stalking but waiting in line or hanging out and watching my fellow humans being themselves.
In addition to the airport and Starbucks, observing people at the gym ranks high on the best people-watching places.
It’s even more interesting because everyone’s occupation is hidden behind a T-shirt and shorts. Or spandex.
In other words, you don’t know a person’s True Identity unless they tell you.
The woman next to you on the stationary bike could be a CEO, flight attendant – or she may be an auto mechanic. Ditto for the guy in the ripped tank top and hoodie.
I especially enjoy seeing my fellow over 50/60-year-olds working out.
I observe the exercises they choose, their form, and how they move about the gym. It gives me ideas for areas in which I see people either struggling or doing things incorrectly.
Besides that, I’m nosy.
But I recently noticed people doing less obvious sabotaging practices that could do damage over time. Here are my top four.
Leaning on Things
I first noticed the habit of leaning on furniture and equipment when people sign in at the gym (the cardio section of the gym sits directly in front of the check-in desk, so I have a bird’s eye view of people coming and going).
Instead of simply punching in their code on a small keypad, many boomers (people my age, so no hate mail, please!) lean on the counter while entering their info, supporting themselves on their forearms.
At first, I wasn’t sure why anyone would use this posture. Then I realized this position takes the pressure off the lower back. So, if your back hurts, supporting yourself this way eases the discomfort.
But here’s the thing: It’s lazy. Plus, if your back is weak, so is your core. Nothing good will come out of that combo.
And if you continue to rely on countertops for balance instead of actively engaging your core muscles, guess what? Yes! Your core and your back will only get weaker. Use it or lose it, as they say.
Engage those abs, pull your shoulders back, and stand up!
I’ve caught myself pushing off because I have osteoarthritis in both knees and they can get cranky. Getting up out of a chair by pushing off the armrests is easier on the knees, for sure.
But once again, it’s a bad habit that leads to more weakness over time.
Because you’re not only taking the easy route, but you’re missing out on an opportunity to strengthen your quadriceps muscles which, ironically, can help your knees.
So, the next time you’re about to get up from a chair, think for a second.
Focus on and squeeze your quadriceps muscles (fronts of your thighs) and use them to help you stand up from your seated position. Count it as a “one repetition squat.” Sending you a virtual high-five!
Overall Poor Posture
Poor posture is a rampant problem among all ages, but its effects hit home after 60.
Nearly everything we do involves forward motion, such as sitting hunched over a desk. Since your body shape is the result of what you do all day, sitting with a rounded back for weeks, months, and years achieves the posture of a bay shrimp.
Aside from looking as if you’re headed up the tower to ring the bell and alert the townspeople of their impending demise, a rounded spine wreaks havoc on other body parts – namely, the shoulders.
This position compresses the shoulder joint and can, over time, lead to rotator cuff problems (shoulder stabilizers), frozen shoulder, and other issues. Shoulder injuries become more common with age, even if you’re not practicing tennis serves every weekend.
So, be sure to strengthen your back muscles by performing rows, and pay attention to your posture throughout the day. Ears, shoulders, and hips should align when sitting. Add knees and ankles, if you’re standing.
Hanging on to the Treadmill Rails
Using the treadmill rails for support is a bad habit not limited to us 60 and over people.
By hanging on to the treadmill you burn fewer calories because you’re supporting part of your body weight (ditto for any other cardio such as the elliptical).
Plus, when you hang on while walking on an incline (as most people seem to do) you negate the benefits of walking uphill.
Think about it. When you hold on and lean back, your body becomes perpendicular to the platform. So, you’re basically walking on flat ground. On the other hand, if you lean forward as you would walking up an actual hill – without holding on – you’re kicking in those hamstrings and glutes.
Afraid of losing your balance? That’s even more reason to let go – if you can walk on your own normally.
But if you’ve been holding on, slow down the machine and start by holding on with only one hand. Then progress to letting go completely.
If you’re unsure of yourself, switch to a machine that doesn’t run by itself.
For example, I use a stair stepper machine at my gym because I like being able to stop on a dime without worrying about the machine taking off on its own.
The stationary bike or elliptical trainer are other good choices, for this same reason, if you’re a bit unsteady.
Having said that, however, if you don’t work on your balance by safely challenging yourself, the situation will only get worse, not better.
If you don’t have a balance problem, great! But if you do, start by raising your awareness so you can stop and adjust your exercise position. The key lies in catching yourself and fixing the habit before it becomes a real issue.
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